First off, in the interest of full disclosure, you need to know that I pick up turtles on the road.
Box turtles, snapping turtles, whatever: If they’re in the road, or on the side of it, looking up at speeding SUVS and thinking intelligent turtle thoughts like, “If I hurry, I can make it to the median before that 18-wheeler gets here,” I pull over and pick them up. Relocate them somewhere safer.
I do so grudgingly. I don’t particularly like turtles. They’re quite ugly, and they bite. They are not a bit grateful when you risk life and limb to carry them to safety.
But a long time ago, I read somewhere that turtles endure horrible, slow deaths when they’re hit by cars. I don’t remember the details–and if you know them, do not remind me–but apparently, turtles often survive the initial hit and sit there, suffering, on the side of the road for days. (To whoever wrote this article, thanks a lot. I needed this imagery in my head.)
But I have this thing about suffering. I know it comes with this territory we call Earth, and endured nobly, it makes us better humans beings, better turtles. But I still feel compelled to alleviate pain when it’s sitting in front of me.
And so, I throw starfish back in the ocean, and on busy roads, I pick up turtles. There have been trips to various wildlife refugee centers with mangled birds, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional possum. Usually, they die anyway, but I sleep better at night.
That said, I still think they should have shot the stinkin’ deer.
That would be the deer that got stuck in the mud near Charleston, S.C., last week and required the services of the Sheriff’s Department, the City Police, the Volunteer Rescue Squad, and Animal Control before the terrified animal was dislodged four hours later and hustled off to a vet.
For a while, it seemed as if every government agency in Charleston was involved in the rescue, except for the Coast Guard, which said, in essence, “You gotta be kidding” when asked to send a helicopter to the scene. Of course, the Coast Guard was not in the color photograph on the front page of the newspaper the next day, either; the rational always pay a price.
So did the hapless motorists of Charleston County, as Operation Rescue shut down the westbound lanes of the Don Holt Bridge, which is heavily traveled by 18-wheelers en route to the port and tourists headed to the beaches.
This is where they lost me.
I’m all for rescuing suffering animals, until the suffering spreads to me. And had I been one of the people trapped on the Don Holt Bridge–and trust me, somewhere in that traffic was a mother whose recently potty trained three-year-old had to go right then–I would have leapt out of the car, leaned over the bridge, and screamed “Kill it! Just kill it!” while highly trained sheriff’s deputies built a walkway through the marsh out of plywood and wooden pallets.
The punch line: It is hunting season in South Carolina. And the trapped deer was a buck.
The deer was so terrified at the noisy approach of his rescuers (We’re from the government, and we’re here to help!) that although his rear legs were buried in the mud, over the course of four hours he managed to move 30 feet in a futile attempt to escape his benefactors.
The deer, should he recover physically, will need several weeks of Dr. Phil and a lifetime supply of Prozac to resume normal deer functioning, even in the “non-hunting preserve” where he will be deposited. No one, it appears, asked if it might have been kinder to shoot the deer on Wednesday night, when he was first discovered, than to terrorize it (with the best of intentions) until midday Thursday, when he was finally tranquilized and pulled from the muck.
For those who want to send cards, they’re calling the deer “Lucky.”
Meanwhile, out in Sacramento, the San Juan Unified School District last week voted to create a Humane Education Learning Charter School for its constituents who need an elementary school based on kindness and respect “for all humans, all species and the environment.”
Presumably, the government agencies there aren’t spending a lot of time pulling deer out of the muck at taxpayer expense, so the children of San Juan need someone to set a good example. According to the Sacramento Bee, the proposal for the school included a quote from Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its non-human animals are treated.”
Apparently, Charleston, S.C. is now the moral capital of the nation.
The school, the Bee said, will have about 300 students in grades K through 6 and “teach alternatives to violence and focus on teaching compassion toward all sentient beings.” This, of course, is a striking departure from the public-school education of my youth, in which I was taught to pull wings off of flies and boil bunnies in large pots.
Oh, well. It’s nothing to lose sleep over; it is California, after all. As H. L. Mencken observed, democracy is the premise that the common man knows what he wants and deserves to get it, good and hard. You people of San Juan, you want to send your kid to the Humane Education Learning Charter School, you go right ahead. There will be less competition when my kids apply to Notre Dame.
But, just a bit of advice: When preparing the curriculum, go easy on the specifics of what exactly happens to a turtle when it gets hit by a Suburban on Interstate 5. Some knowledge sticks with you, whether you want it to or not.
–Jennifer Graham is a freelance journalist who lives in Richmond, Virginia.